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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Essential Equipment - Part 2

All of you had really great comments for part 1 of this series and Nicole had great questions I will get to in very near-future post!   
A slight diversion....if you have time today, please check out this post here.  It has some great thoughts on blogging, obscurity, and fame, and how that affects the posts we write.  It also coins a phrase that I absolutely adore:  "BlogBuds".  So y'all are officially my BB's!  
On to regularly scheduled programming....
My level numbering system has nothing to do with the riding skill the endurance rider has, or the number of miles or years that a rider has been riding endurance.  Instead, I'm using the numbers as a guide to help a person decide how committed (in terms of gear and that $$ that gear costs) they need to be in the beginning and as they progress.  It's entirely possible to stay a level 1 rider, doing a few rides a year for the sure enjoyment of getting out on a new trail, for your entire endurance career!  However, most of us, once deciding endurance is our siren call, move on up to a level 2 rider....
A level 2 rider (in my humble opinion) is a person who has transitioned from riding some endurance rides, to an endurance rider.  They are starting to obsess over their horses comfort and their own comfort.  It's not enough to finish, they want to finish well.  By well I am not referring to speed - I'm referring to the ability to jump off your horse at the end of a ride bushytailed and bright eyed, sighing in enjoyment, "wasn't that fun", while your horse prances along ready for another lap, and the level 1 riders stare in amazement. 
Level 2
  • Crew bag - it's time to upgrade to a "real" crewbag.  Chances are you have thoroughly investigated your cheap "alternative" crew bag options and no one thing fulfills everything you need in a crew bag.  A "real" crewbag is pricey, but so is anything that is going to do the job as well.  So you have a choice - spend the money on a crew bag, or spend the money on your Ideal alternative solution - but you are mostly likely going to spend the money.  And let me tell you - it will be worth every penny to have a crew bag that works perfectly for your needs - no more wasting time at a vet check because you are disorganized, cursing zippers and the fact that your hay has permeated your clothes and food. 


  • Select pieces of biothane equipment - Now is the time to take a careful look at your tack.  On your first few rides you may have discovered that some of your tack has started to rub or chafe during the miles, or has started to fall apart.  My recommendation is to replace tack as you need to with biothane or other synthetic.  My earliest biothane investment was a breast collar, just because of the amount of sweat and dirt that occurs in that area.  No need to go out and replace everything with fancy coordinated biothane sets unless you have some $$ you want to spend, but select pieces will make your life a lot easier.


  • Fancy saddle pad/Saddle evaluation - is your saddle and pad combination still working?  A good pad can make your life easier, although you can be successful with a simple "low-tech" pad for the rest of your endurance career.  There are many good pad considerations if you do decide to upgrade - all of them with their advantages and disadvantages.  My advice is to try to buy used so you can see "kinda" how they will work, before deciding to spend the money on new.  My haf pad was mostly worn out when I bought it, but I got to use it enough to decide I loved it and bought new.  I bought my woolback used and didn't like how thick it was (didn't have a close contact "feel"), so although I've used it for many many conditioning rides, I haven't bought a new one to use during rides (the used one has some hard spots).  I bought my skito pad, and although I like it OK, if I had bought used, I would have realized that I needed to continue to look at other options, as I'm not in love with it.  (Saddle pad reviews can be found in other posts on this blog.  Search this blog using the word "saddle pad review", or by typing in the name of specific pad and it should come up). 


  • Cart for hauling gear and water in camp - I resisted this one for a long time.  Three things changed my mind:  1.  I became conscious of how important it is for me to save me back.  The longer my back stays in good shape, the longer I can ride.  2.  I used someones cart to haul my crew bag from the vet check and back.  WOW.  3.  My tevis crew threatened to mutiny in 2010 unless I bought them a fancy cart to move all my crap to and from vehicles.  I have 3 suggestions for a cart.  The most expensive option is to buy a folding aluminum marine cart.  The other 2 options are:  A folding game cart (used for hauling dead game out of the back country - less than $80 - ideal for hauling feed or lazy crew members), or a folding gardening cart ($90 - better for tack and hauling water). 


  • Pen or hitie - You have probably figured out the impossibility of tying your horse the trailer in a manner they can safely lay down.  Now you have to decide whether a pen or a hitie is right for you.  Disadvantages and advantages to both!  Do you research and talk to a LOT of people.  Most will have a strong opinion one way or the other (I prefer hities - specifically the "spring tie" brand). 


  • "Real" saddle bags - You have probably been using non-endurance saddle bags.  By now you should have enough experience to know whether you want to carry food etc on your back, or if you prefer to use a backback.  I found out I HATED  using a camelbak because no matter what I did, my back got wet and cold.  I prefer to put everything in a rear saddle pack during rides, and a front saddle pack during conditioning rides.  I *should* carry a fanny pack, but I don't.  Endurance specific bags don't bounce, and unless you are handy with a heavy duty machine or have a friend who is, I suggest investing in endurance saddle bags.


  • Rump rug - Depending on where you live, this can be a necessity - or not - for rides.  It also depends on how much of a weather wimp you are!  If you didn't invest or make one at level 1, this is the time to get one.


  • Inclement weather gear for rider - at level one you may have stayed home during inclement weather, but as your zeal increases, so does the chance of riding a ride in less than ideal weather.  Do yourself a favor and pick up some quality wet weather gear for yourself.  Watch the sales closely and you should be able to get something that doesn't break the bank.  Once I have thoroughly tested my gear I will post separately on rider rain gear, but my suggestion for now is a quality goretex jacket and waterproof, insulated winter boots - I'm in love with my ariat winter boots.


  • Heart rate monitor - You may try and decide it's not for you, or you may swear never to ride without one.  Either way, it's useful to try it out and experiment with it.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  I used a human one I got on sale for $50 and it worked well!  I used it for ~a year and then lost it and decided not to replace it.  It did give me useful information I could use to hone my observational skills. 


  • Icepacks and wraps - if you haven't done so - learn out to properly wrap legs or make a friend with someone that knows how.  There's lots of expensive and inexpensive ways to ice a horse's leg down.  Experiment. 


  • Start looking and investigating diet - as an obsessive level 2 person, start to obsess about diet.  You've learned the basics about endurance so you can safely get into nutrition without it overwhelming you.  You don't necessarily have to follow anyone else's program.  My rule of thumb is that I should be able to fully explain WHY I'm feeding any given forage or grain - and that reason needs to make sense for an endurance horse.  Additionally I read everything I can get my hands on and I'm constantly evaluating it against my current knowledge and feeding program.  If changes need to be made, be able to explain WHY, do it gradually, document when you did it, and then reevaluate in an appropriate amount of time.


  • Start looking at different shoeing and boot options - Similar to nutrition, now that you aren't so overwhelmed by all the details of endurance riding, this is an area where it makes sense to start to experiment if you aren't totally happy with how your horses feet and legs look after races.  Even if shoes have worked for you, it's worth dabbling with boots and barefoot to see if it will work for you.  I'm going barefoot for my horse's benefit AND mine.  I've found that going barefoot allows me to meet more people and have conversions!  It's the easiest thing in the world to strike up a conversation on the trail with another person using boots because you have something to talk about!!!!!


  • Evaluate human fitness program - By now you should have realized that endurance is easier if the rider is in shape.  Do something about it. 


  • Fleece cover - Even if you don't use one regularly, it's worth picking up one used and throwing it in your kit.  It was a life saver for me at the 4th day of Death Valley one year.  I don't usually ride with one, but by day 4 my Achilles hurt so bad I thought it was going to rupture.  By riding with the cover on the 4th and final day, it changed the angle of my leg just enough that I got through that final day in a bearable amount of pain.  (on another subject, I am NOT suggesting you follow my example, but that you seek appropriate and timely medical attention!  Of course!  Ha!.....)


  • Coolers and additional blankets - Multiple coolers are very useful for cooling a horse out in humid and cool weather.  The option of several different weights of blankets is useful, as is at least one extra waterproof blanket, in case it POURS for the entire ride and your waterproof gets damp underneath.

I don't have much to say about level 3, which is why it's stuck here at the bottom of the level 2 post.  I consider 100 mile, 5 day multiday riders, and riders who are consistently riding to win or top 10 as "level 3's".  They have it figured out (mostly), and have started to add elements that require fine tuning and precision.  I'm a level 2, transitioning to a level 3 and this is what I've figured out so far....

Level 3
  • Endurance headstall - in most cases I consider this a real luxury.  If you have schooling bridles that are working for endurance rides, there is really no logical reason to go and spend money on this, except......that they are pretty, come in a zillion different colors, and help minimize the amount of "stuff" on a horse's face.  This is one expense I can't justify as anything beyond the pure joy of giving my horse a gift. 
  • Glow bars etc. - If you have a 100 miler in your sights, start trying out different night light options for the trail and see what works best for you - nothing (with a backup), snap glowbars, battery glowbars etc.  There's a lot of options and a lot of colors.  Find out what works BEFORE you wander off into the great darkness on your first 100. 
  • Speed - If you are riding for the win or top 10, this is when to start incorporating speed - after you have some experience and are consistently finishing rides and finishing well.  There are some exceptions, but MOST riders have no business doing speed rides at level 1 and possibly into level 2.
  • Riding lessons - Even if your horse looks great and you feel great at the end of the ride.  Even if you look good in your ride pictures.  Even if there's no obvious problems with your's still worth taking some lessons.  I GAURENTEE you will learn something and become a better rider.  Your horse will be a better horse and if something happens that ends it's career as an endurance horse, it will have another skill to fall back on. 
Well my fellow BB's!  That's all I have.  So what did I forget?  What I am WAY off base with and just plain wrong about?  What can you not live without that I forgot to mention?


  1. This series is awesome! The only thing I would comment on is that I would move riding lessons up from level 3 to level one. EVERYONE benefits from lessons, not just people trying to win!

  2. LOL - and at level 3 you go back to feeding good grass hay and your favorite supplement, having experimented with 50 kinds of horse food, adding fat only when the horse won;t stuff in enough calories on his own.

  3. Hey, I'm like a level 0.9 and I want a blingy biothane bridle! A girl can dream early, right?

    The blog about blogging was interesting, because the other day I met someone IRL who read my blog.* It was pretty weird - I blushed and mumbled something about how now she knows I just bumble along. Very weird! I don't know if I'd want to be an internet celebrity. Which is good, because I'm not trying to be one.

    *and not a Fellow Blogger, cause yall are different somehow. Just one of the anonymous hits. Eeeek.

  4. Great post. I guess I am just moving into a level 2, funny, I've been toying with the idea of ordering a 'real' crewbag for this year!
    Karen W.

    Hey, OT, but have you ever had a renegade rub on the back of the pastern above where the boot sits at rest? They've been working really well for my little 4-5 mile rides but we got a pretty severe rub going 12 miles last weekend.

  5. So even though you WANT something, as a starting out endurance rider doesn't mean you HAVE to have it to get started in endurance......that's one reason I put off getting a fancy bridle-good thing matt got me one or I might never have gotten it!

    Nope-never had a rub. Do you clip? I think having less hair would make it more likely to rub, although with hair it's important the area starts off clean. My only other suggestion is maybe either one of the straps are too tight? They don't have to be very tight. My other suggestion would be to contact renegade directly with pictures. I've talked to MANY people who were having various problems and were able to turn it around to a complete success with some guidance from them. Good luck!

  6. Thanks! I'm tending to think I may have had it too tight- then the captivator may not have been moving with her foot enough and started to rub at the top. Thanks for the idea to contact them directly, I really do want to try and use the boots (I only do LDs) so I'm hoping I can get them adjusted well enough for those.
    Karen W.


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